Not So Safe Spaces in "Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories"
Copyright (c) 2018 by Michael Rickard II
Editor's Note: Here's an essay I wrote on Women Hollering Creek and Other Stories for a class I took on borderland literature. Spoilers abound:
In Sandra Cisneros’ Women Hollering Creek and Other Stories, space is used to explore societal confines and personal confines as experienced by the characters in the book’s short stories. Whether it is Cleófilas enduring domestic violence in the title story, or Inés, a magic-wielding woman who looks into the past, present, and future to assess her life; spaces are used to compare power relationships on a personal and national level. Cisneros’ use of space in her storytelling fits in with borderland literature’s exploration of the unique world created by the clash between a first world nation and a third world nation.
Cisneros employs shifts in time and space to explore power relationships throughout her stories. Critic Mary Pat Brady argues, “Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories is an extraordinary example of a text that considers the shifting terrains of power and makes explicit some of the terms of contemporary spatiality through both its narrative style and content” (118). This use of space reflects the book’s theme of a loosely defined border where there are no guarantees of security or peace. This theme is relatable to the border between Mexico and the United States where perceived spaces of security (such as the home) do not always match reality.
In “Woman Hollering Creek,” Cleófilas struggles with the different spaces geographically and in her mind. Cleófilas seeks a better life than the drudgery she finds herself in; living in a poor town with her father and brothers. Initially, Cleófilas seeks relief from her life in the fantasy world of telenovelas, a space that provides her with unrealistic hopes of life in a better space. Cleófilas then sees a different space as offering hope when her prospective husband woos her with promises of a new life in a new space—America. However, Cleófilas’s dream marriage clashes with reality when her husband turns out to be abusive and less than ideal, whether it is his boorish personal habits and behavior or that he doesn’t meet her fantasy image such as , “…he doesn’t look like the men on the telenovelas” (Cisneros 49). She struggles to find solace in other spaces such as her romance novels, but her husband keeps her from this, literally using the novel against her when he throws it at her in a rage. Cisneros compares Cleófilas’ dream of a better life in another space to the life she finds herself in. Cleófilas’s pursuit of solace in Hollering Creek reflects the fantasy world she lives in as she contemplates suicide to end her pain and prevent her baby from suffering in the future. Fortunately for her, Felice is able to deliver her from both her fantasy world and her abusive environment. The story ending with Cleófilas traveling home seems to reflect a return to reality and the discovery of a new world where women do not have to be subservient. This beautiful passage shows the discovery of new spaces in life as Cleófilas realizes there may be a world where women do not need to live under a patriarchal order. This is seen in the passage, “Then Felice began laughing again, but it wasn’t Felice laughing. It was gurgling out of her own throat, a long ribbon of laughter like water” (Cisneros 56). In a sense, Cisneros uses the personal space between Felice and Cleófilas to compare the two women’s approaches to life, yet another use of the comparison of spaces.
Spatiality takes on new dimensions in “Eyes of Zapata” where a woman (Inés) travels through time in her memory and through supernatural means to explore her relationship with her lover Emiliano Zapata, examining where her life has been, where it is, and where it will go. Inés also compares her relationship to her father and society through this temporal travel. This allows her to realize and acknowledge Zapata sees her as a mistress and not a wife. Inés uses a supernatural ability to fly to spy on Zapata and his lover, one of several supernatural instances which cause the people around Inés to label her a witch. While Inés is largely dominated by Zapata, she uses her ability to look into the past and the future to understand she is not as helpless as she thinks and that Zapata is not as strong as he believes. She also sees that Zapata’s familial legacy is one of disappointment as one of Zapata’s many lovers, María Josefa’s children die. Furthermore, Inés and Zapata’s son lives a disgraced life when he tries to live off the family name. Finally, Inés realizes her neighbors may see her as a witch, but she is content with who see is, regardless of what they think.
Cisneros’ use of temporal travel provides a comparison of power dynamics between men and women and also serves as an allegory for the relationship between Mexico and the United States. Like Inés, Mexico may be in a weaker position than the United States, but the United States is not as powerful as it believes itself to be. It is arguable Inés’ acceptance of her place in society reflects Mexico’s contentment in its national identity regardless of America’s perception of it.
Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories sees Cisneros uses comparisons of spaces—personal, geographical, and temporal to explore relationships on an individual and societal level. “Woman Hollering Creek” and “Eyes of Zapata” exemplify this, but there are many other stories in the book to do so as well.
Brady, Mary Pat. “The Contrapuntal Geographies of Woman Hollering Creek and Other
Stories.” American Literature, vol. 71, no. 1, 1999, pp. 117–150. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/2902591.
Cisneros, Sandra. Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories. Vintage; 1st Vintage
Contemporaries Edition. 1992.